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Hirsh: Braves' Wood a key cog after injuries
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Former Georgia Bulldogs pitcher Alex Wood could become a crucial component of the Atlanta Braves pitching staff after injuries to Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen this spring. - photo by MCT

What always impressed me the most about Tom Glavine — more than his ability to paint the corners, outsmart hitters or thrive under pressure — was his demeanor on the mound. My father pointed this out to me on a Sunday afternoon back in the 90s, when Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren and Joe Simpson were calling games for TBS as Glavine was having one of the worst outings of his career.

Despite his struggles, the veteran lefty displayed no emotion. No cursing into his glove, no stomping of the feet, no pouting. Instead, he stood tall.

“Whether Tommy’s throwing a no-hitter or getting shelled, you’d never know by looking at him,” my dad said.

That always stuck with me.

Fast forward about 15 years and Glavine is no longer on the field. He’s in the broadcast booth, calling games alongside Simpson and Skip’s son, Chip. But another southpaw, a kid named Alex Wood from Charlotte, N.C., now dons a Braves cap — and he reminds me quite a bit of the legend from Billerica, Ma.

Yes, there are many differences between two. Wood’s throwing motion is rickety, almost unstable; Glavine’s was smooth as silk, each delivery as calculated and mechanical as the last.

Wood’s fastball can touch 96 miles-per-hour and overpower opposing hitters, even guys like David Wright and Ryan Howard. Glavine, who never possessed great velocity, relied on other traits to get the job done.

Wood is tall and lanky, about 6-foot-4. Glavine is more of an average height and was never considered imposing.

But it’s the way Wood carries himself that resonates with me and reminds me so much of No. 47. It’s that calmness, perhaps more than his impressive numbers, which makes me feel like he’s destined for big things.

I noticed this the first time I saw Wood pitch, back on May 30 of last year when he made his major league debut. It was just a day after he was called up from Double-A Mississippi and Atlanta was routing Toronto, and rather than burn a valuable reliever during garbage time Fredi Gonzalez summoned Wood.

Less than 48 hours earlier, he was riding buses to towns such as Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., and Jackson, Miss. Several months earlier, he was still in college, throwing for the Georgia Bulldogs and taking business classes.

And, in what must have felt like a blink of an eye, he found himself playing in front of 30,000 people.

It would be easy and forgivable for a kid to struggle dealing with this kind of situation, one which arose unexpectedly after a few key injuries to Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. That was certainly the case for those closest to Wood.

Alex’s mom, Carol, sat in the Turner Field stands as her son prepared to make his debut. Carol was in tears, overwhelmed by the emotions that come with seeing one’s child realize his dream. His father, Richard, a life-long Mets fan who, at least for a moment, forgot about his hatred of the Braves, was leaning over the visitor’s dugout, taking as many pictures as he could, smiling from ear to ear.

Atlanta’s dugout, which would normally be disinterested by the tail end of a blowout, watched closely.

Meanwhile, Wood removed his cap as warm-ups ended and glanced down solemnly. There were butterflies in his stomach, sure, but you couldn’t tell. No one could tell. If not for his boyish looks, there would have been no indication that this was his first time facing a big league lineup.

Wood went on to throw a scoreless inning to give Atlanta an 11-3 win over the Blue Jays. After getting Maicer Izturis to ground into a game-ending double play, he barely showed a smile —just a tiny smirk that quickly vanished, almost as if it was a sign of weakness — and put the ball in his back pocket for safe keeping.

The 2012 second round draft pick would go on to pitch in 30 more regular season games for Atlanta. When it was all said and done opponents hit .263 against him, and his ERA settled at 3.13.

Those are some impressive numbers, but Wood’s rookie campaign didn’t come without its mistakes: 3-1 fastballs left over the middle, untimely walks, poor pitch selection, etc.

But through it all he remained composed, unruffled by the spotlight and expectations.

"We think really high of him. He doesn't get spooked," Gonzalez told MLB.com. "Last year, he came in from just pitching college baseball. And we brought him in to the Major Leagues and he was successful … He's a guy that likes to compete. He pounds the strike zone. He really does. He just keeps giving you good outing after good outing."

Today, Wood is still just 23-years-old, but he’ll be counted on to do big things in the near future. Heading into 2014 he’s slated to be an integral part of the Braves’ rotation — even more so now that Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are on the shelf.

Wood has yet to allow an earned run in four Spring Training games, and batters are hitting just .220 against him.

That’s encouraging, but if you’re a Braves fan there’s good reason to worry about thrusting Wood into such a prominent role at this juncture. Who’s to say he won’t fall into a deep slump, develop a problem with his mechanics or crumble under the burden of his job?

There’s no telling if those issues will arise, but Wood’s poise should diminish them, if not eliminate them all together.

And though he probably won’t become the pitcher Glavine was, he and the Hall of Famer share this important characteristic. With a high ceiling and his prime years ahead, it should serve Wood well. 

Andrew Hirsh covers sports for the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at ahirsh@forsythnews.com or on Twitter at @andrewhirsh.